Useless "power savers": The saga continues

From: "tan" <>
Date: Mon, 15 Jun 2009 14:04:39 +0800
Subject: Removing Links - Website

Hi Dan,

We have read your write up and would like to suggest that you remove the
link from your site to our website.

You can still quote some phrase BUT please do not simply add a link without
any permission.

Your immediate action on this is much appreciated.

best regards,


Use Power With Le$$ Cost <>

If you do not want people to link to your Web site, Steven, then don't have a Web site.

(I know this post will be a bit repetitive for regular readers, but clearly the people selling these gadgets are not giving up, so I reckon the world could do with one more page warning about them.)

Steven's company doesn't even have a stupid linking policy. I'm very disappointed. They may yet cheer me up by getting a lawyer to send me a letter, though!

The Ground Zero column that's bothering Steven is the one in which I talk about the numerous worthless "power saver" gadgets on the market today.

Some "power savers" - including some of the things currently found in my above-linked eBay search - actually work. You can, for instance, buy powerboard gadgets that monitor one socket on the board for current draw, and only turn all of the others on when you turn on that one monitored device. A setup like that can, for instance, turn on all of your home-theatre gear only when you turn the TV on, so everything else won't be sitting there in standby mode drawing a watt here, a few watts there, of "vampire" power when the TV isn't on.

The most common kind of "power saver", though, is the kind that Steven and his buddies at ePowerSaver sell. (Oh no, that's another link - whatever will they do?)

The ePowerSaver device is alleged to save you money not by turning things off, but by correcting the power factor of electrical equipment in your house.

A single small plug-in device like the ePowerSaver cannot actually effectively correct the power factor of other stuff plugged into the same circuit. Apart from the fact that the ePowerSaver is not nearly big enough to contain the hefty high-power componentry it'd need, power-factor correctors have to be matched to the load. Too little correction - which is what you should expect, if your power factor is bad enough to need correcting in the first place and the corrector you purchase is one of these wall-wart-sized "power savers" - and they won't entirely compensate for poor power factor. Too much correction - which is actually possible, even with a cheap plug-in corrector like this, since the overall power factor of a modern household can actually be very good - and they can make a bad power factor worse.

But, and here's the punchline, it doesn't actually matter whether these devices correct power factor at all, because nobody but certain large commercial electricity users is billed by power factor. Normal domestic electricity meters can't even measure it.

The plug-in power-saver idea is so dumb that even TV news can figure it out...

...although it seems that that the difference between apparent power and real power, which is the core of this issue, was somewhat beyond KUTV's Bill Gephardt.

Sellers of power-saving gadgets count on this. Their target market is all of the people whose eyes glaze over when someone who actually knows something about electricity attempts to explain that extra current flow from mains-waveform phase distortion in the starboard Jeffries-tube boson inductors is not the same as actual extra power consumption.

(Just because one TV news show managed to figure out these things are a scam doesn't mean that other stations aren't perfectly happy to repackage VNRs from "power saver" companies and call 'em news, though. I particularly enjoyed this awesome piece from an Atlanta CBS affiliate, which cheerfully advertises the previously-mentioned Power-Save 1200. The voiceover proudly states that "the US Department of Energy endorses the device", which is a piece of information which appears to be news to the Department of Energy, and indeed the rest of the US government. Nothing seems to have changed in Power-Save 1200 Land since I wrote that piece in 2006; now, as then, the closest thing they seem to have to an actual DoE "endorsement" is a report - PDF, from a Power-Save site, here - that says that improving power factor is a good idea if you're a large commercial customer, blah blah blah.)

I suppose it's perfectly possible that the sellers of these power savers are like their customers and TV-news talking heads, and don't know the difference between apparent and real power either. I mean, just look at the ePowerSaver Product Testing page, where they proudly show a bank of fluorescent lights (with, I presume, lousy low-power-factor ballasts; modern fluoro ballasts should be much better than this) drawing 1.306 amps with no "power saver", and then only 0.642 amps when the "power saver" is connected in parallel. That's the sort of reading you might perhaps get if you plugged a large enough capacitive power factor corrector in parallel with a highly inductive load, but your electricity meter will notice no difference at all.

(Note that even if you do have ancient awful-power-factor fluorescent lights in your house, then plugging a PFC-modifying capacitor gadget like this into a socket elsewhere in your house is unlikely to achieve very much, even if by some miracle it's got enough capacitive reactance to cancel out the inductive reactance of those magnetic fluoro ballasts that you should have replaced years ago. The "power" circuit and the "lighting" circuit in normal residences diverge from the breaker panel separately, so whatever electrical ebbs and flows the capacitor in the PFC gadget produces will have to interact with the ebbs and flows from the fluoros many, many metres of wire away from them. And then there are houses like mine, in which the power and lighting circuits are completely separate, coming from different wires on the pole outside. Plugging a PFC doodad into a power socket here will have precisely zero effect on the lighting circuit's power factor.)

I think it's actually rather implausible that the people selling these things have never gone so far as to see if the little disk in the electricity meter starts spinning slower when their product is plugged in. But who knows - maybe they went straight to market after doing that clamp-meter current test. And I suppose it's possible that people who are too clueless to understand that sending complaints to people who link to their Web site is not a great idea may also be too clueless to figure out that their product does not in fact work.

If you don't believe me (and Bill from KUTV and his friends from the University of Utah), here are a few other references about these devices:

The Energy Star program run by the US Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy would like you to know that these things are scams. (The Department of Energy unaccountably fails to mention how they absolutely 100% you-betcha approved that thar Power-Save 1200.)

British Columbia's BC Hydro and Power Authority, like many other power companies, charges large commercial customers extra if they run gear with a lousy power factor. Here's their page about power factor correction, which talks about choosing motors to match loads, installing capacitors across motors, et cetera. Note that the power bill they quote in their power-factor surcharge example is about one thousand four hundred Canadian dollars per month. If you're not running motors that cost that much a month to operate, you're probably not being billed by power factor.

The Texas Attorney General has busted the makers of the XPower Saver that was tested in the KUTV video clip. used to sell plug-in power savers, until they realised they were a scam, apologised to their customers, and handed out refunds. Now they sell one of those things that just turns off "vampire" devices.

Michael Bluejay's Mr Electricity site.

Peter Parsons' home energy cost reduction site has a section about power-factor devices. (He's also got pages about some other "green" scams, like ineffective insulation, the unavoidable fake "fuel catalysts", overpriced electric heaters like the ones I've looked at, a fuel doodad for oil-fired furnaces, and fraudulent home-power-generation schemes.)

Silicon Chip magazine here in Australia has checked out the "Enersonic Power Saver" and the less-creatively-named "Electricity-Saving Box", and concluded that both are a complete waste of money. You'll need to pay a subscription fee to read the whole reviews, but the circuit diagrams are rather entertaining (note that the second one appears to be missing a "µ" in front of the capacitor-value "F"). If you ignore the components that only exist to light LEDs and protect a capacitor from damage, you're pretty much left with... a capacitor.

In a box.

Imagine my surprise when I saw what you get when you search for "just a capacitor" power saver.

NOTE: I cordially invite any power-saver manufacturers who're now itching to send me a nastygram about this post to, instead, send me their product to review. I will test its effect on a normal household electricity meter while running various household motor loads, like an electric fan, a vacuum cleaner, a washing machine and a refrigerator.

Should your device do what you claim, I will immediately and cheerfully retract all of the above.

20 Responses to “Useless "power savers": The saga continues”

  1. ZorglubZ Says:

    I just had to send an e-mail to the one so-very-kindly-supplied-by-you-here; to wit:

    "Scientific Method"?
    I guess this (i.e., "The Scientific Method") is a foreign concept to you?
    Especially the "Peer Review" part?
    You, my good sir, is either a buffoon or a nincompoop - and please, do read up on the exact definitions of these, no doubt too syllabic for you, words.
    With no regard whatsoever,

    ... from a dump addy :-D

  2. ZorglubZ Says:

    Maybe I should have slept on my ire, but I've never been able to stand stupidity...
    Ignorance is curable; geddouta my [gene]pool!

  3. dr_w00t Says:

    I cordially invite any power-saver manufacturers who’re now itching to send me a nastygram about this post to, instead, send me their product to review...[snip]

    Should your device do what you claim, I will immediately and cheerfully retract all of the above.

    Pfft, Dan - your motives are so transparent! You clearly just want a free power-saver device!

  4. eattan Says:

    You do not get free product by asking them to send you one for test and to prove the product claim. Are you from Certified Lab? CE or UL perhaps> What you should do is to get one and tested out before your write any nonsense here.
    All we asked is not to link your site to our website without any permission.Is that alot of thing to ask from you?
    It is just a courtesy. Well, some people just try to prove themself by tarnishing others image.
    If your GOD permits all this,by all means follow the way.
    Lastly, said all you like about power saver,i feel sorry if the product does not work in your region. Perhaps,spending lesser time in your PC will save more power for you.
    Hope this tip helps.

    best regards,
    Use Power With Le$$ Cost

  5. dr_w00t Says:

    Erm... I was being sarcastic you tool. Why would anyone want a free power saving device when it is about as much use as a condom machine in the Vatican?

    What a suprise that you make stony face reference to an arbitrary deity in your reply.

  6. Gopher Says:

    Are you from Certified Lab?

    Dan may not have a certified lab but have you taken your device to an independent certified lab and had it proven to work? If so, wouldn't that have been better evidence to provide as a rebuttal rather than telling Dan not to say mean things about your product because that's mean?

    If your GOD permits all this

    And which exact religious text states, "though shalt not rat out they brother's sham business"?

  7. speedweasel Says:

    Hi Steven,

    You need to realise that it is you, and people like you that are the problem here, not Dan. If you insist on selling worthless products to an unsuspecting public then you are preying on people’s ignorance and should damn well expect to be called on your unethical behaviour, especially in the no-holds-barred, public arena of the Internet!

    However you might try to rationalise your behaviour or attempt to discredit Dan’s motives for calling you on your bullshit, it remains clear to anyone with the slightest education in these things that you are either a fraud or a fool. Dan is doing a public service by taking you to task on your outrageous claims for this device.

    Dan has presented nothing but demonstrable facts and empirical evidence. This was not an opinion piece. His observations are backed by well understood scientific principles (well, *we* understand them anyway.)

    Now, instead of continuing with your gormless sulking, why not refute Dan’s argument by providing us with *evidence* that your product works as advertised. That’s OK, I’ll wait…

  8. Daniel Rutter Says:

    You do not get free product by asking them to send you one for test and to prove the product claim.

    Actually, yes I do. Happens all the time. I've written literally hundreds of product reviews, and almost all of them are of products that the manufacturer sent me for free. Honestly, my main problem these days is that I've got far too much review product awaiting my attention. But I'd make space for you!

    Most of the products I reviewed over the years weren't blatantly fraudulent, of course; I wasn't seeing if they worked, but how well they worked, how they stacked up against the competition, et cetera.

    But I have reviewed a few products that're completely worthless. See, for instance, the Batterylife Activator and The Wine Clip. I even got to have a look at an EMPower Modulator once.

    As other commenters have pointed out above, if you're so all-fired enthusiastic about "Certified Labs", then get thyself to one and have them see whether your product actually works.

    But you don't need a Certified Anything to see if it works. Plug something that the "power saver" is meant to help with into the wall in a house without also plugging in the power saver, make sure nothing else in the house is drawing power (including sneaky stuff like a water heater hiding above the ceiling...), then go outside and time how long it takes for the spinning disk (or whatever the electricity meter's smallest-denomination display is - the digit at the extreme right, for a digital meter) to increment a few steps.

    Next, plug your "power saver" into the outlet right next to the test device, then go outside and time the power consumption again.

    This technique is a little time-consuming, and can only practically be used with devices that draw power constantly (so, not things like refrigerators), but it gets you directly to the heart of the matter - whether your device will actually save money for normal electricity users.

    If you take a shortcut by using an inline multimeter, clamp-meter or one of the cheap power meters that're all over the place these days, you run the risk of measuring apparent power - simple DC-style volts times amps - not the real power that household electricity meters actually measure. Many, many people have made this mistake, including a quite remarkable number of people who, because of this error, think they've invented an electrical perpetual motion machine (...which will surely start working properly as soon as they get rid of whatever it is that's making it grind to a halt every time...).

    If your GOD permits all this,by all means follow the way.

    Oh, man - are you ever talking to the wrong guy.

    I must thank you, though, for taking this unusual religious tack, rather than immediately shouting at me about lawsuits. I suspect that this, if nothing else, puts you well ahead of many of your competitors.

  9. pompomtom Says:

    All we asked is not to link your site to our website without any permission. Is that alot of thing to ask from you?

    Where did people get this idea that one should have permission to make a link?

  10. j Says:

    i feel sorry if the product does not work in your region

    This line is particularly interesting. You're suggesting that the device does not work for Australia?

    In which regions does your device work, pray tell?

  11. A man from the Internet Says:

    best regards,
    Use Power With Le$$ Cost

    Alert! Alert! Additional unauthorised link! You must therefore attack yourself with furious anger and great vengeance.


    *vanishes in a puff of logic*

  12. dabrett Says:

    Glad to see I'm not the only person who spotted that Mr "please don't link to my site" Cleverpants couldn't help but include a link to his site.

  13. james.k Says:

    Ah, won't 'fixing' the power factor of a device with lousy power factor make your electricity meter spin *faster*? You're moving apparent power over to real power by improving the power factor... or have I over-thought this and got myself confused?

  14. Bern Says:

    @james.k: It's been far too many years since I did those introductory electrical engineering subjects at uni, and I understood this stuff so well I did mechanical engineering instead... but from memory, improving the power factor doesn't change the amount of power the device consumes, but instead reduces the amount of power that needs to be pumped into the grid to be able to cope with that wacky waveform & dodgy phase angle that you get with poor power factors. And household meters don't really notice power factor, anyway.

    But more importantly, you've all missed the fact that Mr "Use Power With Le$$ Cost" Steven actually offered some good advice:

    Perhaps,spending lesser time in your PC will save more power for you

    He's dead right. Turning off your PC for an extra few minutes a day (or leaving it in sleep mode or something) will definitely save more power for you than one of his devices!

  15. phrantic Says:

    I'm going to link to him on Twitter. I wonder what will happen?

  16. Matt W Says:

    No, No, No.
    You're all missing the point. What we have discovered here is a whole new species of nutjob. The quasi-scientific, religious, rip-off merchant with added geo-bigotry and condescencion.
    I propose that Dan gets to name the species.

  17. edgetas Says:

    Rebranded, recieved a phone call from some polite Indian folk tonight followed up with some research. this is the site given:
    Repackaged, but same bulletpoints, re-used logos and photos.

    I know this is an old post, but hey, someone else might find it too.
    Call me cautious ... Cheers!!

  18. AndyD Says:

    Today Tonight are going to a story on an amazing power saver tomorrow night that will revolutionise the electricity industry. Apparently it's old technology that's been adapted to Australia and will save up to 35% on your bills. I could be wrong but I think the guy's name was Stephen?!

    Of course, Today Tonight also believe people can communicate with aliens, predict the future and speak with the dead. And let's not forget their credulous reporting of MoleTech.

  19. AndyD Says:

    Sorry, his name was Geoff, not Stephen.

  20. Ernest Says:

    This "useless" PS does save money. :) In fact. :) Well, not the advertised percent, but let's say 2 %.
    "If you don't belive me...Go to Michael Bluejay or Silicone Chip..." Well, they have something in common. Got mistaken in the questions of household-like not metering the power factor and the questions of what current and voltage is where. :) They should have studied the phasors.

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